Belgium’s Terrible Decline

assisted-suicideJoseph Conrad once coined the term “heart of darkness” to describe the atrocities of the Belgian colonial rule in what today is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nowadays, however, the heart of darkness seems to be closer to home: in Belgium itself. By adopting a law that makes euthanasia available for minors, Belgium has surpassed its neighbours Netherlands and Luxembourg as the most euthanasia-friendly jurisdiction in the world, and must now be regarded as a world-wide champion of the Culture of Death.
The new law allows euthanasia for minors without any lower age limit, albeit with parental consent.

It is certainly strange that a legal system in which children below 14 are generally considered unable to form any legally relevant decision should nevertheless attach relevance to a declaration by which a child gives up its right to live. Leading pediatricians have vocally opposed the law saying they had never seen or heard of a child asking for euthanasia. Like in all cases of euthanasia, or even more than in other cases, one has strong reasons to ask whether the objective is really to cater for the interests of the person to be euthanized.

Is there not a risk — in particular for young children below the age of reason — that “mercy killing” will be imposed on them, because their parents are overwhelmed by the task of caring for them, and because healthcare providers suggest that caring for the sick child is not worth the expense? And is it really true that euthanasia will be restricted to the terminally ill, that would die within a few days anyway? Is it not much more likely that the law will soon be used to end the lives of children with a handicap – i.e., children that will require life-long care, but that could nevertheless still live for decades?

It is an open secret that the practice of euthanasia, in all countries that have legalized it, by far surpasses the cases officially targeted by the law. But this is an inconvenient truth, and public authorities do not seem keen to find out about it.

Whoever has had the privilege of making personal acquaintance with Philippe, the King of the Belgians, knows that he is a devout Catholic with a sound moral judgment who sincerely tries to act according to his faith, and that he had strong objections to sign the controversial bill into law. Many have hoped, therefore, that he would refuse to do so, petitioning him to refuse his signature. Unfortunately, he seems to have lacked the courage that would have been required in this situation. He signed, and the Belgian press praised him for having “perfectly accomplished his role as a Head of State”.

When Belgium legalized abortion in 1990, then King Baudouin (the present King’s uncle) refused to sign the bill, declaring that he could not do so in good conscience.

However, he accepted a solution according which he was declared incapable of fulfilling his royal prerogative for one day – which empowered the government to promulgate the law without the King’s signature. This was, however, a clear misuse of the Constitution. And while it allowed the King to keep his hands clean, it strangely re-framed the matter as if the problem was the King’s demoded moral opinions rather than the fact that the new law collectively stripped an entire category of human beings of their most fundamental human rights.

Despite all the praise that King Baudouin earned at the time for having refused to sign the abortion bill, a bad precedent was thereby set. His brother Albert II, who was King from 1993 to 2013, had no objections to sign into law the bills that legalized euthanasia (for adults) and same-sex marriage. This was maybe one of the main reasons why King Philippe did not find the courage to stand up against the Euthanasia-for-children law: it would have required him to publicly distance himself from his father, who is still alive.

But by signing this law, Philippe has in fact abdicated every ambition to be a true King, i.e., a personality who can take action out of its own right. He is now nothing more than a well-paid public notary. What will he do if the Belgian Parliament adopts even worse legislation than this one?

And apparently this day is not far away. With accepting abortion, Belgium (like other EU countries) has entered a slippery slope on which one step downwards is logically followed by the next. The nadir of the moral decline is yet to be reached, and there is still worse to come.

In an op-ed that was published by the newspaper “Le Soir” on February 25th, Jean-Louis Vincent, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), who was one of the leading protagonists in pushing for the legalization of euthanasia in Belgium, announced that the current regime is still not liberal enough for him. Indeed, having pushed through (without a lot of opposition) the euthanasia-on-demand for children, the next logical step for him is to legalize abortion-without-demand. He writes:

Jean-Louis Vincent, “Professor for intensive care” at the ULB, advocates that patients without good expectations of recovery should be killed – if need be, against their will.

We believe that we must still go further. This is why the Société belge de soins intensifs has signed a document that has recently been published in the Journal of Critical Care (2014 Feb; 29(1) : 174-5) . The text clearly specifies that “the discussion here is about the administration of sedative agents with the direct intention of shortening the process of terminal palliative care in patients with no prospect of a meaningful recovery”. And it explicates the practice of unasked-for euthanasia in its point 6: “Shortening the dying process with use of medication, such as analgesics/sedatives, may sometimes be appropriate, even in the absence of discomfort, and can actually improve the quality of dying; this approach can also help relatives accompany their loved one through the dying process—such a decision should be made with due consideration for the wishes of family members.”

Our country needs a law that … authorizes the administration of medicaments that shorten a person’s life if the quality of that life has become too mediocre. And this should be possible without requiring that the person concerned has signed any document.

No, this is not slander. I am not making this up. This is what this medical expert really has written, and what he proudly advertises in one of the country’s leading newspapers. (It is perhaps unsurprising that the ULB is Belgium’s “masonic” university, which requires anyone aspiring to a professorship to sign a statement that he does not believe in any “revealed truth”, i.e. that he has no religion.

It is, by the way, remarkable how the argument is shifting. So far, euthanasia advocates have always claimed that what they were really fighting for was “self-determination”. Now, all of a sudden, it turns out that they are not at all in favor of self-determination, but that in fact they are against it. Unasked-for euthanasia is the radical opposite of “self-determination”.

If Mr. Vincent’s proposal becomes reality, then it will become outright dangerous for sick people in Belgium to make an appointment with their doctor or, even worse, to go to a hospital. Who knows – maybe the doctor will determine that your life-quality is “too mediocre”, and will simply kill you. It would be perfectly legal for him to do so. Soon there will be no more clarity about what the purpose of a doctor’s activity is: to heal or to kill?

Clearly something has gone terribly wrong in Belgian society. This country is moribund.

Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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